Well, our six-week-long cosplay as Detective David Mills is over. Did we all assume Rachel Patton was the body being loaded onto the leaving plane? The White Lotus has certainly leaned into that suggestion, with Alexandra Daddario’s sad eyes and Shane Patton’s trigger temper. But “Departures” doesn’t go the depressingly predictable husband-kills-wife route. Instead, it goes another similarly depressing, similarly predictable route: A rich guy kills a guy with less money, zero social connections, and no family name to hide behind, and no one bats an eye. “Crash and burn,” Armond had said, and he does—and does anyone care?
Police detectives shake Shane Patton’s hand. The White Lotus resort keeps on running. Another man puts on a pink suit like the one Armand used to wear, stands alongside Belinda and Dillon, and readies a smile and wave to greet the next boat of guests. The Mossbachers leave Hawaii, and Tanya leaves Hawaii, and the Pattons leave Hawaii. And the body that used to hold Armond—Tennyson quoter, mad pooper—is unceremoniously loaded into the back of a plane to go back to wherever he came from. A man dies, and most everything stays the same.
“We are world eaters,” another Brad Pitt character said in another Brad Pitt movie, and the voracious human appetites he was critiquing destroy lives on Earth, too. Armond bled out in an architectural bathtub in a White Lotus suite he could never afford to stay in on his salary. Belinda has her dreams of helping people just like Tanya crushed by Tanya herself as she chases another man to another place. Kai, encouraged by Paula to steal Nicole Mossbacher’s jewelry to try and battle the resort that stole his family’s land, ends up caught and arrested—and, probably, on his way to prison.
The details of these altercations won’t matter to most of the guests in a few days’, a few weeks’, or a few months’ time; everything we do is subjective, and the guests will spin these stories as they please. Like how Mark and Nicole described their altercation with Kai as an over-the-top saga of life and death, Shane will probably tell people about how he valiantly protected Rachel (even though she was in another room) from a deranged resort employee who had it out for him from the beginning. Tanya will speak glowingly of the woman who helped her at the White Lotus, but maybe she’ll eventually forget Belinda’s name—she’s been to a lot of wellness centers, after all, and they’ll probably all blur together after a while. And certainly the Mossbachers, and newly reinstated daughter Olivia, will talk about the vacation that brought them back together and punctured the lingering guilt, regret, and anger from Mark’s affair. What will Nicole buy Mark with her own money to commemorate his heroic moment as Superman in a scuba suit? Maybe the Mossbachers will end up a boat family after all!
The only person I can see truly regretting her actions during this trip to Hawaii is Paula, and even then, I’m not entirely convinced. Kai would have never thought of stealing from a guest if not for her, and now he’s at least fired, at most incarcerated. Did Paula think she was helping to facilitate something courageous and just and good? Yes, I absolutely think so, and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I empathize with that desire. But Kai’s life is ruined anyway, and Paula—although she confronts Olivia about being just like her parents, and although the blocking of that final dinner pits the two young women against each other, with Paula assessing Olivia’s joking and joshing with her parents—still lets herself be held by Olivia, be consoled by Olivia, be folded back into the fold by Olivia. Is she a hypocrite? A sympathetic one, but yes. And ultimately, like the Mossbachers, Tanya, and the Pattons, Paula leaves Hawaii. She gets to leave, and whatever laments she may have, she goes back to her college and her real life—and she throws away the memory of Kai by dropping his gifted necklace in the ocean, Rose Dawson style. At least she was honest with Kai in that way. But that honesty isn’t very much of a consolation for Kai, is it?
Satire can be both a mirror and a mask, and The White Lotus has used it both ways. First, in the season’s early episodes, as a reflection of the absurdity of “This vacation will heal me and reset me and make me whole” expectations, and the privilege that enables them. Mark and all his “humans are monkeys” stuff, Tanya and her hunt for new treatments, Shane and his obsession with getting the Pineapple Suite he “deserves.” But in last week’s “The Lotus-Eaters” and this week’s finale “Departures,” the show’s use of dark humor has functioned far more as a mask. Sure, Mark’s defense of imperialism and colonialism is laughingly out of touch. Yes, Shane and Kitty’s smug dinner conversation judging how other rich people made their money is Succession levels of toxic. And truly, Jennifer Coolidge’s line deliveries are a triumph in straddling the line between fragility and detestability.
Overall, though, “Departures”—and The White Lotus overall—are tragedies. The line between tragedy and comedy is very thin, and here we are on the other side of it. We may use laughter as a defense mechanism, but it’s to soothe the reality of what most of us don’t have. We don’t have second and third and fourth chances at finding inner peace. We don’t have $75,000 bracelets. We don’t have families who bankroll our extravagant weddings and honeymoons at suites that cost thousands of dollars a night. More of us are like Armond or Belinda or Kai or Dillon or the guy with the khaki face. We have dreams that are never going to come true, and we have a very limited ceiling against which our ambition butts up against. That’s not to say that Tanya is an entirely bad person, or Armond was an entirely good person. But it is to say that some people get to start over, and some people don’t, and at the end of the day, a lot of that is determined by whether you serve people or whether you are served by people. “Everything sucks at home. It’s all dead. I want to live,” Quinn says before he runs away, and yes, there’s some youthful naivete in that—but there’s bravery, too.
“Departures” begins with Quinn, who is once again invited by the Hot Canoeists to join their crew. “Don’t keep us waiting, you fucker!” they yell, and so Quinn hops back on—but he’s only one of the few resort guests having a good morning. While Mossbacher parents Nicole and Mark are having sex for the first time in forever, Olivia calls out Paula on her lying, Rachel looks positively horrified by Shane’s pawing and cuddling, and Tanya begins to worry about Greg’s omnipresent cough. And two very monumental altercations take place: Natalie and Mark tell Shane about their encounter with the jewelry thief, hyping him up and giving him me-against-the-world syndrome, while Rachel flees to the resort spa, where Belinda offers her support for whatever she’s going through. “It’s just my marriage, you know, whatever,” Rachel says through her endless tears, and when Belinda offers her a business card with her cellphone number on it—clearly hedging her bets given Tanya’s sudden disinterest—Rachel takes it.
It’s the last day of vacation for the guests, and minute by minute, things are getting more intense. In a reversal of the Mossbacher children’s alliances, Olivia chastises Paula for the heist scheme and aligns herself with her parents (I guess Olivia is a lot more like father Mark than she though, and redistributing the wealth was only an acceptable ideology for Olivia when it didn’t affect her wealth!), while Quinn spars with his family after announcing that he wants to stay in Hawaii and join the canoeing team for a hōkūleʻa expedition through Polynesia. Shane uses the jewel-thief news as inspiration for Tough Guy cosplay (“I just wish I had a gun, or like a baseball bat at least”), while Rachel finally admits to Shane that she thinks she made a mistake in marrying him. I can understand people who think Rachel is acting foolish now given that she willingly married into the Pattons, but I also think that Daddario is doing great work here as someone whose sense of self is shattered and who doesn’t quite understand her own reactions as they occur. That little pause Daddario adds between “getting married” and “to you”? It’s perfectly countered by the acidity of Jake Lacy’s “Now we are starting down a very dark road. And you better be sure you really want to go there.”
Armond certainly does once he learns that he’s about to get fired because of Shane’s myriad complaints. “I don’t care,” Armond says numerous, numerous times, and he gets impressively high on the last of Olivia and Paula’s stash (“They exploit me, I exploit you… Fuck this place!”) before deciding, on what seems like a whim, to waltz into the Pattons’ suite and leave Shane a parting gift. Do we ever need defecation shots in profile? We do not. But this scene was fascinating to me because of how accurately it captured the contrasting levels at which Armond and Shane are playing this game against each other. Armond is irritated by Shane, and he thinks he’s an asshole, but he doesn’t break into the room to steal anything, or to attack him, or to otherwise threaten him bodily or monetarily. Armond simply poops in Shane’s suitcase. It’s gross, but also? It’s kind of harmless.
Shane, though? Shane, as he has during this entire vacation, sees himself as a victim at all times. People have been coming at him his whole life, remember? Women have always been chasing him, as Kitty says, and other people have always been intimated by him, right? Shane’s wealth has convinced him for a long time that he’s special, and that he should be untouchable. And so this situation goes from darkly humorous to irreversibly dangerous so quickly; once Armond bumps into the wall while trying to peek around the corner to see where Shane is, he’s doomed. “There’s a violent criminal running around the hotel,” Shane had told Rachel, but that person ends up being himself. He assumes that whoever is in his suite is so dangerous and so threatening that he needs the pineapple knife. He attacks first. And when he stabs Armond in the chest, we don’t hear him immediately call 911. We hear him apologize, but not offer help. Instead, it sounds like Shane leaves—flees, really—because he can.
The freedom of mobility for a certain kind of person is all over “Departures.” Tanya uses Belinda’s teachings against her when she says “The last thing I need in my life is another transactional relationship. It’s not healthy for me,” effectively catapulting Belinda’s dream. Tanya had complained about men throwing her away after they got what they want, but here she is, casting Belinda aside as soon as Greg, nicely but essentially shruggingly, agrees to keep the party going. And although I want to throw kudos to Belinda for refusing to be a shoulder for Rachel to cry on, what that choice also means is that Belinda is giving up on something more than the White Lotus. She will stand there and smile for the incoming guests, just like the new person who slides into Kai’s spot blowing the conch at the performance for dinner guests, and just like the new person who slides into Armond’s spot running the resort. And while Belinda is stuck, it’s Rachel, although she acquiesces to this awful marriage to Shane—much like, it seems, Mark did by staying in his collapsing marriage to Nicole—who has the power to join him at the airport, to get on the plane to Tahiti, to give into a life of ease and access and wealth. “When I’m with you, I just feel weirdly alone,” Rachel had said, but there she is, promising to be happy while her eyes shine with tears. No, life might not be easy. But it’s certainly easier when you’re rich.
“This is your tribe: your family, the people here,” Paula said to Olivia in their final fight, and The White Lotus ends mostly quite cynically, doesn’t it? I discussed in a previous recap how much this season has been obsessed with the cynical nature of familial identity, and sure enough, The White Lotus concludes with most everyone assuming their rightful place. When it really mattered, Olivia abandoned her alleged rebellious ideals. Tanya acted like her romance-obsessed mother. Shane, and now Rachel, embrace the Pattons’ “money, money, money” ideology. “Something bad did happen,” Paula said about what she did to Kai, but that wasn’t the only devastation she and the other guests left in their wake. The status quo remains the status quo with the lone exception of Quinn, who dives headfirst into the unknown. Recall the boat from the series’ opening credits: The battle against the wave is overwhelming, and it is endless. Good luck, Quinn.
- “Bubba, you wanna get some breaky?” might be the most loathsome line uttered in all of The White Lotus, but then I remember the phrase “cool chick.” How dare you, Mike White?
- The “very pretty man” who Tanya rejects is Austin Stowell, from The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Not a teenager anymore! (I’m sorry.)
- Kudos to the show’s editing team for that cut between the pristine underwater world while Mark and Quinn were scuba diving and Paula throwing up above them on the boat.
- Do we really think the Mossbachers wouldn’t just come back to Hawaii and drag Quinn home?
- The Hot Canoeists never get character names, but they are played by actors Brad Kalilimoku, Shea Lokahi Timothy Fabiana, Nathan Feitos, Imani McNorton, and Denton Kukahiko.
- Sydney Sweeney is an excellent accusatory squinter. A real mind blower to realize she was the hospitalized Alice on Sharp Objects.
- Natasha Rothwell’s many “So help me” eyerolls and blank stares were similarly exceptional.
- Speaking of Belinda: She didn’t leave Tanya’s envelope stuffed with money in the spa foyer drawer, did she? Take it home!
- The final books of the season: Paula reading Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism and Olivia reading Jacques Lacan’s Écrits.
- While Armond is tripping out, we cut to a shot of the Hawaiian wilderness, with a swing hanging from a tree and a bridge in the distance. Did we get any context for what that place was? Was it what Kai’s familial land looked like before the resort was built? Was it the island from Tennyson’s “The Lotos-eaters” poem, which Armand imagined after quoting the poem last week? Or was this explained as something else entirely and I just missed it?
- That shot of Connie Britton’s hair blowing in the wind while the Mossbachers were on the dive boat—we deserve this!
- Hanh Nguyen at Slate did a great interview with Katrina Crawford and Mark Bashore of the studio Plains of Yonder about the symbolism of the show’s opening credit sequence.
- Thank you for reading this season! See you for the recently announced season two, in another expectedly beautiful location with expectedly awful people.